Gwen Knight Snowden, our mother, sister, grandmother, aunt, and treasured friend, passed away peacefully on April 26 after a long illness that dimmed but could never quite extinguish her bright light. We will miss her vivacious smile, her supportive warmth, and her ability to make every one of us feel extra special. Her departure leaves an aching void but also reminds us of her lasting legacy.
Dorothy Gwen Knight was born to Malcolm and Cascile Knight in Atlanta, Georgia, on July 21, 1944. She grew up in Jacksonville, Florida, where her father was the pastor of Southside Baptist Church. Gwen was a leader from the start. She and her two younger sisters, Judy and Anne, formed the “Knight Girls,” with Gwen boldly steering the helm with big—and occasionally mischievous--ideas and persuasive charm. At Landon High School, she delighted in the activities of the Class of 1962, serving as editor-in-chief of the yearbook and supporting her fellow Landon Lions in what would prove a life-long role of ultimate cheerleader.
Gwen attended Stetson University, where she studied education and was elected by her classmates as Freshman Beauty Queen and Miss Stetson. Her freshman year she met Robert (Bob) Snowden, a dimpled pre-med student and talented musician. Upon graduation, Bob & Gwen married and moved to Nashville, where Gwen taught elementary school while Bob finished medical school. Following residency, Gwen and Bob settled in beautiful Pensacola, where Gwen found her greatest joy and fiercest passion as a mother to their children, Todd, Laurie, and Ben.
Gwen loved her community and channeled her formidable energies and creative vision into countless leadership and volunteer activities. After dipping her toes in as Cordova Park PTA President, Gwen went on to serve in leadership roles on the Sacred Heart Women’s Advisory Council; Foundation for Excellence; Junior League of Pensacola; PJC Foundation Guild; Pensacola Children’s Chorus; Foundation Board of Governors of Pensacola State College; Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games; and Impact100 Pensacola, to name a few. She was a committed member of First Presbyterian Church, where her she served as an Elder, led the Membership Committee, helped establish the Resale Shop to raise money for the church’s Child Discovery Center, and shepherded the creation of a beautiful and elaborate annual Christmas display.
Gwen was a uniquely creative and capable visionary and strove to make every project a success. She was not just a leader, but a connector of people, a consummate organizer, and a wellspring of ideas. She often said that “anything worth doing is worth over-doing,” and exemplified that belief. Unfailingly, she tackled her commitments with an enthusiasm and authentic generosity that inspired those around her.
Gwen also had many other passions. She loved gardening, shopping with her Stein Mart boutique ladies’ discount, and decorating for the holidays. She had a keen aesthetic sense and knew how to bring out the beauty in a room or a table. Gwen threw fantastic parties, but enjoyed the process of planning and executing them with her friends as much as the festivities themselves (and was never afraid to get her hands dirty). Most of all, she loved celebrating the people in her life and making sure they knew that they were worth over-celebrating.
Gwen happily enjoyed and appreciated her many blessings, but fought hard for what she believed in. Beneath that unfailing grace and composure was a quiet but unflinching strength. Gwen had an extraordinary capacity to nurture that grew beyond her roles as wife and mother. She had a knack for connecting with people of every age, seeing the unique value in each of them. If you think you had a uniquely close relationship with Gwen, you were right. Gwen loved the music of James Taylor and epitomized his advice to “shower the people you love with love.”
For the last several years of her life, Gwen lived in a memory care facility near Jacksonville, just around the corner from her son Todd and daughter-in-law Catherine, who loved and cared for her fiercely. But even as her world shrank due to Alzheimer’s Disease, Gwen’s warmth, smile, and sense of mischief drew the circle of caregivers into her loving orbit. Those who came to know her at the end of her life adored her, much as those who knew her in her prime.
Gwen is predeceased by her husband, Dr. Robert Thomas Snowden. She is survived by a crowd of diehard fans, including her children: Dr. Todd Snowden (Dr. Catherine) of Ponte Vedra Beach, FL; Laurie Sheehan (Gary) of Atlanta, GA; and Ben Snowden (Rebecca) of Raleigh, NC; her grandchildren: Dr. Caroline, Adam, and Harrison Snowden; Connor, Hayden, and Brendan Sheehan; Nora, Julia, and Winn Snowden; her sisters: Judy Knight Hubbard (Patrick) and Anne Knight French (Jon); and an immense circle of nieces, nephews, cousins, and friends. She cherished all of you.
An over-celebration of Gwen’s life will be scheduled in Pensacola the weekend of July 21. Memorial contributions may be made to Impact 100 Pensacola, Community Hospice & Palliative Care (Jacksonville, FL), or any charity that is dear to your heart.